Network Infrastructure

Talking with Vivek Ragavan: Actelis Leader Explains How Company is Helping Close the Digital Divide

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  March 01, 2012

This article originally appeared in the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

It’s well understood that broadband is playing a key role in enabling many of us to expand our access to content, and to each other. But not everybody has equal access to broadband. However, Actelis (News - Alert) Networks provides solutions to help bridge the digital divide. Vivek Ragavan, president and CEO of Actelis, recently spoke with INTERNET TELEPHONY about the company, its customers and products, and the state of broadband today.

What’s your background and how are you applying that experience at Actelis?

Ragavan: I’ve worked in the telecommunications industry for 30 years. During this period, I’ve worked for and helped found a number of industry-leading companies, including General Instrument (now part of Motorola (News - Alert)), ADC Telecommunications (now part of Tyco Electronics), Siara Systems/Redback Networks (now part of Ericsson) and Atrica (now part of Nokia Siemens Networks), all of which focused on developing technological advances in broadband access, but in different layers of the stack. I would characterize my career as always being involved in leveraging the latest technology to accelerate broadband adoption, and that is exactly what Actelis’ mission has always been, so it was a natural fit when I joined the company in the spring of 2009. During this time, I’ve employed my past experience and success in growing various businesses, executing their successful exit strategies, and delivering exceptional shareholder value to guide and accelerate Actelis’ business in universal broadband for both enterprise and residential markets. Subsequently, we’ve successfully grown the business year over year and in a very tough economic climate. I believe that all my past experiences are relevant to this opportunity with Actelis, where I plan to accelerate success for the company, our investors, our customers and partners.

For those readers not familiar with Actelis, what does the company do?

Ragavan: Actelis’ mission is to accelerate delivery of broadband services, performance and reliability for our customers, such as Frontier Communications and Cbeyond (News - Alert) here in the US. Abroad, Actelis has longstanding relationships with innovative service providers Colt and Destiny. We also provide IP-based broadband access solutions to many of the nation’s municipalities, including the City of San Jose (California), Nassau County (New York) and Montgomery County (Maryland), which is home to many Capitol Hill politicians, as well as leading universities like Stanford University here in the Bay Area.

How and when did Actelis get started?

Ragavan: Actelis was founded in 1998 to solve the problem of accelerating broadband without funding multi-billion dollar network upgrades. The founders had the foresight to anticipate tightening purse strings and believed that reusing existing infrastructure would become imperative. We certainly have experienced a resurgence, particularly over the last couple of years, of carriers revitalizing their existing networks and leveraging their copper.

How has the company evolved over time?

Ragavan: Over the last 14 years, Actelis has become well known in the marketplace as the world’s No. 1 global supplier of Ethernet over copper solutions, but the company has evolved from a one-trick pony, EFM-over-copper solutions provider to a company that is accelerating broadband for both enterprise and residential subscribers. Actelis is having a continued widespread impact on the broadband industry by enabling carriers to immediately deliver universal broadband services to millions of subscribers who are either out of reach or do not meet their government’s current definition of broadband.

What makes Actelis solutions unique?

Ragavan: A great example of a new technology that has enabled these greater rates and coverage is our DRB (Dynamic Rate Boost) technology. Actelis’ broadband solutions with built-in DRB technology are playing a key role in a carrier Ethernet initiatives, enabling them to significantly boost symmetrical bandwidth throughput and coverage area and efficiently scale the types of business-class, managed and cloud-based services they can deliver to their businesses customers, while drastically reducing their operational costs by replacing outdated T1 circuits.

On the residential side, with the launch of Actelis’ BBA in 2011, we continued that rich history of innovation. Actelis’ BBA can be used to grow the customer base to which carriers can offer triple-play services, including IPTV (News - Alert), which, according to Screen Digest’s IPTV Market Monitor Q2 2011 Report, has a global subscriber base of over 47 million. Since the BBA is powered by the existing POTS line and takes only minutes to install, carriers can see an accelerated time to market, immediate compliance with government mandates, and higher revenue with minimal capital investment and virtually no increase in operational expenses.

You mentioned BBA represents a major paradigm shift in the way carriers can address the digital divide. Explain.

Ragavan: No longer is the digital divide a challenge, but an economic opportunity, in my opinion. With the BBA, carriers now have a pragmatic solution that will drive increased revenues because they can finally deliver on the promise of ubiquitous broadband across their entire customer serving area. So whether carriers are trying to bridge the digital divide to meet government directives or deliver value-added services like IPTV, over-the-top video and on-demand TV, they can achieve these goals with the Actelis BBA. There is absolutely no need for any carriers and their residential customers to wait for high-speed broadband service. With Actelis’ BBA, if you’ve got dial tone, then you’ve got broadband.

Where are we with broadband adoption?

Ragavan: Broadband has been growing at a phenomenal clip, with subscribers now totalling more than 581 million worldwide. However, whether you look at the United States or in other developed and developing countries, the digital divide still persists. The most effective way to close that divide is leveraging the existing infrastructure. You may have seen recently that the FCC’s Broadband Adoption Taskforce published statistics that showed the broadband adoption rate in the U.S. at 68 percent, leaving about one third of U.S. homes without a broadband connection. With broadband dubbed as the new catalyst for economic growth, both the U.S. government and governments abroad are motivated to develop universal broadband for all. Here in the U.S., the FCC (News - Alert) agreed to transition the Universal Service Fund, originally created to deliver POTS to rural communities and low-income residents, toward the deployment of broadband service to unserved and underserved Americans. I believe that broadband service provides a critical ingredient to promoting economic development and enabling efficient commerce. In this context, making universal broadband accessible to everyone has always been Actelis’ mission.

How about abroad?

Ragavan: Abroad, universal broadband differs. Switzerland was the first country in the world to provide universal broadband service to its citizens, in January 2008, followed by Finland. Taiwan started broadband universal service in 2007. The British government planned to make broadband available to every household by 2012, but the coalition government has delayed this by three years because they believe the cost is too great – a problem that Actelis’ BBA actually solves. The reality is, whether in the U.S. or abroad, universal broadband is a necessary requirement for economic growth to narrow the digital divide.

Is there anything in the pipeline at Actelis about which you can give us an inkling?

Ragavan: Actelis’ traditional business has been to develop and bring to market broadband access solutions over existing networks for the enterprise market. And while we have achieved great success in this space, we are also focusing on the residential market, where we believe the acceleration in growth enabled by our new BBA product line provides unprecedented opportunity for Actelis and our customers. The BBA is the first solution Actelis has produced for the residential market, and we are currently developing new solutions. There remain many untapped areas in DSL technology, such as VDSL2 and vectoring, [which] will enable carriers to achieve their goals: leverage existing assets, future-proofing networks, minimizing capex and opex, and generating additional new revenue streams. Actelis is developing solutions that will help carriers realize the full potential of such key technologies to achieve their goals, which will accelerate both their success as well as ours. There has been a lot of hype recently about various other DSL enhancements, but it is important to note that these are merely tests conducted in pristine lab environments and not actual field deployments. Actelis continues to focus on our customers’ practical needs, adding support for VDSL2, vectoring and other DSL variants into our product portfolio. Furthermore, we are pushing the boundaries on how much bandwidth is available on copper, further exceeding the unmatched rate, reach and reliability Actelis already delivers over existing networks.

Edited by Jennifer Russell